N AT I O N A L C O U N C I L O F A U S T R A L I A 2 0 0 9
See the fast that pleases me: Breaking the fetter of injustice And unfastening the cords of the yoke, Setting the oppressed free and breaking every yoke. Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, Bring to your house the homeless, Clothe the one you see to be naked. Do not turn away from your own flesh and blood. Isaiah 58:6-7
A 2 0 0 9 O v e r v i e w of t h e S oci e t y in A ustralia
TA B L E O F C O N T E N T S
National President's report
Chief Executive Officer's report
Life on the edge of...
Serving our neighbouring countries
The Global Community
Society financial & property resources at work for the people living on the edge
This logo represents the hand of Christ that blesses the cup, the hand of love that offers the cup, and the hand of suffering that receives the cup.
The Society is a lay Catholic organisation that aspires to live the Gospel message by serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice, hope and joy, and by working to shape a more just and compassionate society.
National Council Office: PO Box 243, Deakin West, ACT 2600 Phone: 02 6202 1200 Fax: 02 6285 0159 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Editorial Committee: Syd Tutton, Dr John Falzon and Ramesh Weereratne Edited and designed: Jeremy Yuen and Mary Ferlin, Catholic Communications Melbourne Printing: Doran Printing, Melbourne
Life on the edge 2009
N ational C ouncil an d staff
National Council Syd Tutton
Secretary to Council
Young Adults Representative
Fr Greg Cooney
The Council meets three times yearly at the National Office, Canberra. Staff Personnel Dr John Falzon
Chief Executive Officer
PA to President and CEO
Vincent Nguyen Cuu
National Website Team Leader
Volunteer Personnel Michael Moran
T h e S t Vinc e nt d e P aul S oci e t y A C R O S S AUSTRALIA CONFERENCES Canberra/Goulburn NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC WA TOTAL
53 421 6 217 63 23 301 83 1167
MEMBERS Canberra/Goulburn NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC WA TOTAL
607 4969 198 2447 695 255 4894 909 14,974
VOLUNTEERS Canberra/Goulburn NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC WA TOTAL
2307 17,092 109 4465 1350 1000 6500 2842 35,665
Employees Canberra/Goulburn NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC WA TOTAL
119 1351 39 320 102 95 708 95 2829
CENTRES Canberra/Goulburn NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC WA TOTAL
26 248 5 127 36 33 101 41 617
Life on the edge 2009 5
Revolution from below N ational P r e si d e nt ’ s R e port
When National Council launched Shared Futures, our National Strategic Plan for 2008-2010, some of our objectives raised a few eyebrows, to put it mildly. Take the following one, for example: “The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council will improve its capacity for social justice activism to bring about revolutionary change to the structures that exclude, disempower and silence the poor.” This objective, after a lengthy process of discussion and reflection, was unanimously approved. Revolution means turning things upside down. This is exemplified perfectly in the beautiful words of Our Lady in the Magnificat:
Society had incredible momentum in spreading across the globe, coming to Australia, of course, in 1854, just 21 years after our initial founding in Paris. We are called to be revolutionary because we are called by the Gospel to turn the values of the world upside down. A world that is content to increase the gap between rich and poor is a world that cries out for change. A world that condemns asylum seekers to death on the high seas or detention and rejection by prosperous countries cries out for change. A world that puts profits before people, that puts the comfort of the few before the common good of the many, that puts status and privilege before the things of the spirit: such a world cries out for revolutionary change.
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Our job is as simple as it is difficult: to identify what needs to be done and to do it.
This passage from the sacred scriptures, this song of hope and expectation, is nothing short of a call for revolution, a call to turn things upside down. This, of course, is not about violent change but it is about a change in society and a change in our hearts. This is something that is completely in harmony with our ethos and mission as a progressive social and spiritual movement.
“I don’t work with the poor, I work with human beings, and it so often happens that human beings doing it hard are the ones that have a claim on me.”
I would like to repeat that description of the St Vincent de Paul Society. We were formed by Frederic and his young companions as a progressive movement. We were not founded to be a static institution or an inwardlooking organisation. We were formed as a movement that could be responsive to human need in the concrete social, economic and political conditions of any particular time and place. The
As the parish priest of St Canice’s Church in Kings Cross said once:
We are specifically counselled by Blessed Frederic to study the conditions that cause poverty and inequality and to do all that we can to prevent this development. Rather than waiting for the disasters to happen, we are challenged to be there before the disasters and to even work actively, especially through robust advocacy, to prevent the disasters. We are obliged to keep the long-term goals of social justice at the forefront of our thinking and actions, even when this might make us unpopular and out of step with similar organisations. It has happened from time to time that the
stand we have taken has been emulated and supported by other organisations. We were not seeking to adopt a leadership position. Neither was the Society setting out to upset anyone or, for that matter, trying to win praise. We were simply following the scriptural imperative to take the side of the downtrodden. In the simple words of the Beatitudes: “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.” We are here to minister to those on the edges. We are here to stand with, and to speak up for, our sisters and brothers who are pushed to the margins. As I was reminded recently by our Gerald Ward Lecturer, Phil Glendenning, who cited the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” Single mothers, people experiencing long-term unemployment, people living with mental illnesses, people experiencing homelessness, Indigenous Australians, asylum seekers, and all the people who are doing it tough; these are our people. These are the people in whom we are called to see the face of Christ. Let us never be afraid to stand with them. Let us never be afraid to speak out for them. Let us never betray them.
Syd Tutton National President
Life on the edge 2009
Your liberation is bound up with mine C h i e f E x e cuti v e O ffic e r ’ s R e port
Back in the 1970s, Lilla Watson and a group of Aboriginal activists in Brisbane wrote the following slogan: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Since I first read this beautiful and wise statement, I have never tired of quoting it – up hill and down dale. I love what it says and I love repeating it. Every time I speak these words or write them, I realise that I need to hear them and see them again. It’s as if I need to learn their meaning for the first time, every time. I am writing at a time when mainstream social policy appears to be continuing down the American path of close supervision of people who are doing it tough. This is insulting to the people we stand in solidarity with. We are seeing racial discrimination augmented by class discrimination. If, rather than embracing our vocation as a progressive social movement, we adopted the condescending ‘charitable model’ that we might associate with scenes from Oliver Twist we would, of course, be quite at home with such demeaning and degrading policies. But the reality is that we are called to share the bread of friendship, the bread of solidarity, the bread of equality, as well as the bread of the necessities of life (such as food, housing, clothing, healthcare, and transport). As the Rule of the St Vincent de Paul Society states: “The distinct approach of Vincentians to issues of social justice is to see them from the perspective of those we visit who suffer from the injustice.” If we make people feel that we are the generous dispensers of charity to the ‘deserving poor’, while being the astute judges of those whom we deem to be ‘undeserving’, then we are failing by the standards of the Gospel:
“I was hungry and you shared your bread with me. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” When we speak of solidarity, we are going to the essence of Lilla Watson’s contention that “your liberation is bound up with mine, and mine with yours”. The central organising theme of the scriptures is this call to liberation: to embrace liberation at the same time of joining our hearts to those who are in need of liberation. Throughout the early Hebrew narratives of the developing relationship between the people and their God, we read the repeated reminder of identity: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (Deut 5:6, Exod 20:2) The God of these former slaves was identified not in terms of a static identity but in terms of a relationship based on doing. The action that was highlighted as an identifier of this relationship was the act of liberation. Intrinsic to this act of liberation was both an urgent love and a passion for justice. This is so beautifully expressed in that precursor of the Magnificat, The Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:8): “He raises the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap.” To paraphrase the Gospel injunction, we are bound to tremble with indignation at every injustice committed against our brothers and sisters, especially those who are regarded as being the least important in society. This tradition of compassion and liberation gave birth to the St Vincent de Paul Society in 19th century Paris. It is more than a school of thought; it is a way of living whereby one’s life becomes a response to the question so poignantly posed by the poet, Pablo Neruda: “Who loved the lost? Who protected the last?”
At this time of the global financial crisis, people’s economic security must be treated as a social good. The public and private sectors can provide employment and the charitable sector can provide assistance but, in both the first and last instance, society as a whole, through its government, must guarantee the economic and social security of the people. We should be very wary of any attempt to allow charitable assistance, such as emergency relief, to become the default means of providing income security to low-income families. Income security is a matter of justice; not charity. As the Rule puts it so well: “Where injustice, inequality, poverty or exclusion are due to unjust economic, political or social structures or to inadequate or unjust legislation, the Society should speak out clearly against the situation…” In other words, we are called to engage in a practice of liberation; not paternalism. Paternalism starts (and ends!) with a highly unequal relationship of power. It is the name we give to certain social policy approaches to poverty and disadvantage. The New Paternalism is a relatively recent version of this approach. The very name bespeaks the manner in which people are being objectified and treated as though they are young children, with supposedly no capacity to make decisions or take control. The new paternalism is exemplified in such policies as compulsory income management or using the threat of financial penalties on people in receipt of unemployment benefits, as if this could improve a person’s chances of employment! The new paternalism is built on the assumptions that people are largely to blame for their own marginalisation and that the problems experienced by people who are marginalised are their problems. These assumptions are as pernicious as they are unproven.
Life on the edge 2009 7
Who loved the lost? Who protected the last?
Homelessness, for example, is not largely a reflection of individual incapacity; people experiencing homelessness are not primarily in that situation because they have a capacity deficit; because they need to learn the skills to cope with the complex world. Sure, we all need to learn more about the complex world. The capacity deficit, however, is clearly a deficit in our social system. This is where we should look first if we are serious about tackling the structural causes of poverty and inequality. And we should be listening to the people who are most oppressed by these structures. We must move away from the false notion that the problem of homelessness is primarily a matter of individuals changing themselves.
The greatest power for progressive social change lies precisely with the excluded. But not, as some claim, by individually addressing their own exclusion as if it were a private malady. As the writer, Isabel Allende, expressed it through one of the characters in her novel, Eva Luna:
It is with pleasure that I present this report as a window into how the St Vincent de Paul Society across Australia throws its lot in with those who are forced to live their lives on the edge.
“...it was not a question of changing our personal situation, but that of society as a whole.” Or, as the Prophet Isaiah (58:6-7) put it: “See the fast that pleases me: Breaking the fetter of injustice and unfastening the cords of the yoke; Setting the oppressed free and breaking every yoke. Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, bring to your house the homeless, clothe the one you see to be naked. Do not turn away from your own flesh and blood.”
Dr John Falzon Chief Executive Officer
Life on the edge 2009
Advocacy To ‘advocate’ means to stand with, and to speak for, our marginalised sisters and brothers. Our work of assistance and service to people ‘doing it tough’ is a tangible way of standing with our people. We are obliged, however, to also speak out as a means of addressing the causes of their marginalisation. The Rule instructs us to be a voice for the voiceless: “The Society helps the poor and disadvantaged speak for themselves. When they cannot, the Society must speak on behalf of those who are ignored.” Similarly, the Book of Proverbs tells us: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, protect the rights of those who are helpless. Speak out and pronounce a sentence of justice, defend the cause of the wretched and the poor.” During 2009, Australia experienced the beginnings of an extremely significant economic downturn. The Federal Government acted swiftly to ameliorate some of the worst effects of the downturn, primarily employing Keynesian methods of pump-priming the economy to encourage greater consumer spending on the one hand, and job-creation through infrastructure spending on the other. The Prime Minister indicated quite explicitly that these have been the twin objectives of the stimulus packages thus far. While disadvantaged Australians were not the main target of these packages, it is to be acknowledged that there have been some significant gains in this area, notably the investment in social housing, as well as some of the cash assistance and, potentially, some of the job creation initiatives. We have been calling for further assistance for people outside the labour market, especially by means of
increasing income support for people on pensions and benefits, a radical overhaul of the current Centrelink breaching regime, and better targeting of education and training opportunities. We witnessed a doubling of the Emergency Relief funding. While we warmly welcomed this move, it is also to be monitored critically, inasmuch as we do not wish to condone a move by Government to force people to rely more heavily on charity, regardless of whether or not the money has originated with the Government. The Society has played a prominent role in advising the Government on the shape of future measures, with key participation in the Community Response Taskforce, as well as with the Australian Social Inclusion Board. The Society is also represented on the High Level Consultative Committee on the Energy White paper and the Digital Switchover Consumer Expert Group. Quite apart from the above, but now implicitly connected, is the release of the Government’s Homelessness White Paper, which includes an unprecedented commitment to halving overall homelessness and, by 2020, offering supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it, with the following three strategies: • ‘Turning off the tap’ – services will intervene early to prevent homelessness. • Improving and expanding services – services will be more connected and responsive, with the view to achieving sustainable housing, improving economic and social participation and ending homelessness for their clients. • Breaking the cycle – people who become homeless will be able to move quickly through the specialist homelessness service system to stable housing, with the support they need, so that homelessness does not recur.
In the midst of the above, it is imperative that the Society continue not only to offer material assistance, but also to be at the forefront of advocacy. The time is very much ripe for this intervention, since there is an enhanced public awareness of the structural causes of the economic insecurity we are witnessing, as well as the fact that those affected are no longer invisible (as was the case to some degree during the time of economic growth). Combined with the material assistance and social justice advocacy, however, is the more spiritual aspect of the current insecurity. People right across the community are searching for the meaning of life in society. There is a greater tendency towards accentuating the common good rather than focusing on individual need or greed. The experience of alienation has as its flipside the desire for meaningful inclusion and participation. The St Vincent de Paul Society is uniquely placed in relation to this. This year’s Federal Budget delivered strong investment in jobs, training and infrastructure. The huge disappointment, however, was the absence of any increase in the meagre incomes of sole parents and people experiencing unemployment. The St Vincent de Paul Society took a strong stand in criticising the Government for this omission. Government representatives were clearly upset with our criticisms. We responded by assuring the Government that we would not resile from our obligation to speak up on behalf of marginalised people. The Society’s position was warmly appreciated by groups such as those representing sole parents and Newstart Allowance recipients. It is crucial for the Society to maintain this prophetic witness to the conditions experienced by people who have been left out of the nation’s prosperity, even long before the advent of the global financial crisis.
Life on the edge 2009 9
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
We carefully analyse the causes of exclusion and poverty, rather than joining the chorus of those who blame people for their own disadvantage. An example of this is the problem of mental illness in Australian society. At a time when we hear some commentators stating that homelessness is a problem primarily linked to personal substance abuse (a claim that is, in any case, factually incorrect), we need to bear witness to the reality that rates of mental illness are clearly exacerbated by the level of inequality in a given society. To this end, National Council held its first Policy from the Margins forum on mental health. The focus was on people who are living with mental illness, and several spoke to the gathering. Similarly, National Council’s promotion and funding for the Clemente Program sends a strong message about the inherent dignity of people who have been marginalised, as did our participation in the community campaign on the health of people with intellectual disabilities. The Federal Government began its terms in office by sending out some excellent signals about the building of a more just and compassionate Australian society. Among these were the announcement that homelessness would be the first subject for a Government white paper; the apology to the Stolen Generations; a commitment to a social inclusion agenda; abolition of temporary protection visas and longterm mandatory detention of asylum seekers; and the Prime Minister’s explicit embrace of social justice as a guiding principle, notably in two major essays in The Monthly, the removal of a gagging clause from government contracts to allow charities to advocate, and an amelioration of some of the harsher elements of the ‘welfare-towork’ legislation.
Happily, the St Vincent de Paul Society has played a high-profile role in being at the table on most of these issues. It is worth reflecting at this point that we are obliged to keep the long-term goals of social justice at the forefront of our thinking and actions, even when this might make us unpopular and out of step with similar organisations. Our principled stand, however, has earned us not only strong criticism but also strong respect, especially from the people who were most affected by punitive practices and exclusion. We are not seeking to adopt a leadership position. Neither is the Society setting out to upset anyone or, for that matter, trying to win praise. We are simply following the scriptural imperative to take the side of the downtrodden. At the start of the global financial crisis, the Federal Government took a number of bold moves to try to prevent the effects of a full-blown recession. There was a need to act quickly and it must be acknowledged that the measures appear to have been successful. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that much of the spending was not as well-targeted as it could have been. The social housing spending is the stand-out exception in this regard but even this appears to have been significantly reduced. It is fair to say that homelessness is being taken seriously by the Federal Government (and also by some state governments) in a way that is unprecedented for this nation. There remain, however, some serious gaps between rhetoric and reality: • The areas of Aboriginal health, housing, education, participation and income security are, despite some claims, seriously problematic. It should be noted here that the greatest concentration of Aboriginal people in Australia is in Blacktown and Mt Druitt in NSW.
• Punitive and paternalistic practices continue to be applied to disadvantaged groups; practices that are completely at odds with a genuine social inclusion agenda. Mandatory income management on the basis of race, class, or both is an example of this. So too is the threat of payment suspension as a result of school non-attendance, a measure that does nothing to address the problems it purports to target. • The debate on Tamil asylum seekers to Australia towards the end of 2009 completely missed the real focus of human need, pandering instead to certain prejudices and presumptions. During 2009, National Council gave more than 100 media interviews on issues ranging from the treatment of asylum seekers to income inadequacy, the economic downturn and homelessness. We have participated on every possible occasion in Government inquiries, including the National Human Rights Consultation, and the Senate Community Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform and Other 2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009. The Society’s National President, Mr Syd Tutton, has given speeches across Australia throughout our State and Territory Councils and at various functions of the Society, as well as representing Australia at the international meeting of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Paris and Salamanca. Our Chief Executive Officer, Dr John Falzon, has also given numerous speeches across Australia and has written and published widely on the continuing struggle for social justice. The Society is well-positioned to be a voice for the voiceless. We are called to do this by the Gospel and we continue to keep our eyes on the long-term goals of social justice and compassion, even when we face short-term difficulties or criticisms as a result.
10 Life on the edge 2009
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Minister for Housing Tanya Plibersek at the Ozanam Learning Centre.
Life on the edge 2009 11
C r e atin g opportuniti e s t h rou g h e d ucation
“There’s no one single path to homelessness, everyone’s story is different. Collectively, it is a story of Australian disadvantage. Homelessness is a window into Australian disadvantage, and our response is a window into the heart of our community, a window into the heart and soul of our nation.” – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, on opening the Ozanam Learning Centre, November 2008. The Ozanam Learning Centre has become a powerful focus for those whose days have been long and empty. In only its first year, the centre has proved to be a significant, empowering initiative to help homeless people develop their practical and social skills and move toward indepen dent living and participation in the wider community. Opened by the Prime Minister in late 2008, the centre is the largest service of its kind in Australia, providing an innovative range of learning and recreation programs critical in breaking the cycle of homelessness. It’s a place where the homeless and disadvantaged are given much more than just a bed for a night and a meal: it is where, once those basic needs have been met, the business of growth and learning begins. This Special Work of the Society, adjacent to the well-known Matthew Talbot Hostel in Woolloomooloo, in inner-city Sydney, has heralded a new era in homeless services. It’s situated in a modern, purpose-built centre in an area well known by the marginalised. On any weekday, the centre is a hive of activity, with people using the computers, playing music, creating art, playing games, cooking, studying… or just relaxing. It’s joined to the Matthew Talbot Hostel’s roof garden, and a steady stream of men wanders back and forth.
About 130 people use the education and activities centre each weekday. Educators and activities staff, supported by volunteers, offer a curriculum of formal courses in computer proficiency, job-seeking and living skills, as well as a program of structured and supervised activities. The centre is now a TAFE outreach campus. But there’s nothing formal or intimidating about the OLC; it’s accessible, energetic and friendly. It’s a place where people want to be. Programs are available to both men and women, including clients of Matthew Talbot Homeless Services and the local community. They not only develop specific skills and competencies but also foster social interaction and understanding, creating opportunities for a broader education, artistic expression and skills development, and a space for relaxation. Innovative and creative pathways were identified to enable clients to move from homelessness, through promoting healthy life-style choices, individual empowerment and social networking. To educate and support them towards independent living goals, particular programs and workshops have been prioritised: • The Living Skills Program, recognised by Housing NSW as a supporting criterion for housing applications; • Mental health and addiction support workshops such as Self Management and Recovery Therapy and Dads in Distress, Crystal Meth Anonymous and GROW, which are held weekly; • Basic and advanced computer programs to help clients in their search for work with resume preparation and interview skills; • Opportunities for recreation and self expression that foster self esteem and social integration, including video production, music and recording, fabric and art therapy.
Since the beginning of the year, several clients have moved into their own homes and have begun paid employment or volunteer work with community organisations. One of those is Alan, 38, who had the honour of demonstrating the practical side of his TAFE course in hospitality by cooking up some pasta for the Prime Minister at the centre’s opening. A year earlier, Alan had moved from country Victoria in search of work. Once in the city, however, he found it very difficult to find accommodation. He ended up ‘sleeping rough’ for a few months, then came to the Matthew Talbot Hostel, from where he managed to turn his life around. The learning and recreation services were an integral part of his journey forward, Alan says. This allowed him time in a stable environment to think about his life and, importantly, has enabled him to begin to reconnect with his family. He is now enrolled in a Certificate II in Hospitality, receiving ongoing tutorial and administrative support, as well as encouragement, from OLC staff. So far, he has passed two subjects. Alan says that the centre has given him “another opportunity at life”. It’s a sentiment echoed by others. Mike, 64, says it has given him back his dignity and a sense of purpose. Something as basic as being able to sit a computer has helped him enormously. “Since I did the computer course I can keep up with the news, feel I know what is going on in the world,” Mike says. “I can do my business, like sending emails and things, and there’s privacy and space. Some of the others want to socialise but, for me, I just want to be able to feel like I am up there with everyone else.”
12 Life on the edge 2009
A futur e of h op e
The St Vincent de Paul Society, through the Bakhita Centre hostel in Darwin, provides more than food and shelter, a friendly word and a listening ear for homeless men in crisis. Here is the story of one young man who is now living with the hope of a brighter future. From the caseworker Michael, 22 years old, applied and was successful in acquiring a vacant room at the Vinnies’ Bakhita Centre hostel in April. For the previous eight months, he had been staying with acquaintance after acquaintance, living on numerous couches. He had been robbed, and living in this random and unpredictable way meant that he was perpetually broke. Growing up, Michael had a tough family life and had taken on the role of parenting his brothers from a young age. This responsibility and the challenges of his childhood eventually contributed to his homeless situation. When Michael arrived at Vinnies, he exhibited what is typically called the ‘fight or flight’ approach to life. He would either stand up and fight in tough situations, or avoid the situation completely. Michael had no confidence and he could not see a bright future. All he could see was a horizon full of trouble, insurmountable debts, no chance of getting a good job and no possibility of finding somewhere to live permanently. When Michael moved into Bakhita, however, he had no idea of how he was going to ever move out of the hostel. Michael was honest, and he wanted to please those around him. He also liked to be thanked for a job well done.
Vinnies encouraged Michael to join Bakhita’s Knockabout Chefs program, where he would participate in a cooking training program that could potentially lead to qualifications and real employment options. Initially, Michael took on the challenge for something to do, but after a while it became clear that he enjoyed not only the work, but also the responsibility and the appreciation of those consuming the fruits of his labour. By the end of July, Michael had completed his Certificate 1 in Kitchen Operations and secured work experience at a sports club restaurant. Michael performed well, fulfilled his obligations of the program and was then employed as a 3rd year apprentice at a four-star resort restaurant, not far from the hostel. Michael has been working hard on a career ever since. From the head chef lecturer When Michael started on the program, it was clear that he was a good kid. However, like so many we see, he lacked confidence, was really shy in some social skills and not as committed as I would have liked. But Michael wanted to do something with his time, and participating in this program seemed to be okay and would give him some reprieve from his case workers. The first thing we needed was for Michael to make a commitment to the program. He said he had commitment, however his idea of commitment was very different to what was required. I needed to encourage him to be on time and to turn up on the correct days. The turning point came mid-way through June, when I told him he had completed half of his Certificate 1. Michael was amazed, and couldn’t believe he had achieved so much, particularly as he had not needed to
pick up a pen or spend hours reading to get there! I think he finally saw that he could do it, and our stories of the fantastic possibilities for him finally seemed to become a reality. Like all participants, Michael was listened to. I listened to his life story, his problems and his dreams. I gave advice where I could, but mostly just listened. Michael knew that what is said in the kitchen stays in the kitchen, so he gained confidence to share his story there. This environment made it easier for Michael to commit and to feel that he belonged. Michael worked hard and I offered him my trust by giving him added responsibilities. After completing his Certificate 1, I really started to pile on the work. He was challenged and pushed to achieve greater things – and he responded. In August, he took over the responsibility of providing 150 meals per day to the Vincentcare meals services, the stock control and the supervision of other Knockabout Chefs, while I enjoyed a working holiday overseas! We helped Michael gain employment as a 3rd year apprentice at a wellrespected restaurant in a four-star Darwin resort. He loved the job but, after a few weeks, Michael started to have issues with his boss. Every morning Michael would debrief with me on the previous day’s events. I’d offer him some advice and ideas on coping skills and encouraged him to just stick with it. This was a big effort for Michael as, in the past, he would have just quit. It became increasingly clear that the situation was not improving, so I requested a meeting with Michael’s boss. After a lengthy discussion with Michael’s boss, it became apparent that the boss had a strategy and was in fact pushing Michael for a reaction, to see how much pressure
Life on the edge 2009 13
he could take. In the boss’s opinion, Michael was too slow and too polite. After sharing parts of Michael’s past, outlining the support Michael was receiving while also pointing out his responsibilities as the head chef, I learned that the boss and the team that worked with Michael all thought very highly of him. Since then there have been no problems and Michael is well on the way to a bright career… From Michael I came to Bakhita needing a room. I didn’t think much past that. But a roof over my head, meals and security allowed me to settle down and think about things. I started the cooking program because I liked Dave, the chef, and the atmosphere in the kitchen; it also kept me off the cleaning roster and out of the sun. It’s great to be cared for, to be able to talk to someone about my problems and to get good advice. It’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, we have a good laugh and most of the blokes really like what we do. There’s always someone that will have a whinge about the way the food looks or that there’s no meat in the Tom Yum soup – it’s seafood! I think it has worked for me here because Dave listened and helped me out. I probably would have hit my boss when I first started, but with Dave and all the guys supporting me, I managed to work through it. I think I’ve changed my priorities since I’ve been here. I realise that to look after others I need to look after myself first. I now don’t want a public housing unit: I want to buy my own place. I’m not happy to catch the bus for the rest of my life: I want to buy a car. I want to travel: I want to study Thai cooking in Thailand… but I will finish my apprenticeship at the place I’m working at now and save a bit of money first.
14 Life on the edge 2009
T h e fun d am e ntal buil d in g bloc k of all social impro v e m e nt is a plac e to call h om e Wal Ogle sees with the consequences of a lack of permanent accommodation every day of his working life. The manager of St Vincent de Paul’s housing program in Queensland, Mr Ogle has overseen an almost doubling in the number of dwellings provided by the Society to needy families and single people to 300 tenancies in the past financial year. Providing so many places to call home has been a significant achievement by the Society. However, it comes as economic and other pressures bite hard in the community. Mr Ogle says Australia must urgently seek better models to deal with the causes of homelessness. “Short term accommodation is simply not working to resolve the crisis of homelessness,” he says. “You’ve got people spending a month at one place, a month at another, then a month somewhere else, and beginning the cycle all over again. “We are more interested in finding and solving the root cause, so people are no longer stuck in that position. For some, that may be simply the opportunity for education.” In 2008 alone, 107,000 people arrived in Queensland, pushing the state’s population to almost 4.5 million residents by mid 2009. At the same time, housing affordability reached an all-time low, pressure on the private rental market intensified and homelessness increased, with Queensland being ‘home’ to a quarter of the nation’s homeless population. “What do you do with these people? When they’re coming from overseas? Or interstate? They come here, and there’s no housing to be provided”, Mr Ogle says. “Lack of access to affordable, secure housing is a primary cause of poverty
and is a common factor leading to entrenched disadvantage.” Mr Ogle says the Society’s vision is that every part of the state will have adequate provision for accommodation for people in need, whether that be short-, mediumor long-term. “Our housing can’t run without adequate housing support measures; we are very dependent on the Vincentians to provide that kind of social support that gives people hope, and makes our housing programs unique from the rest,” he says. “We give people who are marginalised and isolated due to illness, or disability or age, the knowledge that they actually have friends in the community. “It is essential that the Vincentians ‘wrap around’ the housing facilities, providing the support they do so well, which is meeting people in need where they’re at, without judging them for who they are and where they are.” Mr Ogle says the Society had gone through an accreditation process, and is now recognised by the state government as a quality provider of community housing. “However, without an additional 30,000 new homes in Queensland, we’re not going to address the problem. The houses built from the stimulus package – perhaps 5,000 – will only meet about 20 per cent of the demand,” he says. “Without a house, without a roof over your head, people can’t work, they can’t study, they can’t connect with their family and friends, so they become socially excluded. “If you’re paying a mortgage, or paying rent, you’re only three pay-cheques away from homelessness: six to eight weeks maximum – you’re on the streets if you stop paying today. “Everyone is living on the margins when you look at it that way. We all just don’t realise how close we all are.”
Innovative programs of the Society in Queensland Families back on track The St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland is building a 28-unit homeless facility and services centre in Arundel, on the Gold Coast. This project represents an innovative approach to the needs of people who are homeless, aiming not just to provide temporary shelter, but to give those who are homeless the chance to break the cycle of homelessness, and return their families to a secure, integrated lifestyle. Clare Haven During the past financial year, almost half a million dollars in funding was received for the ClareHaven project, a joint initiative of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Queensland, St Anthony’s Catholic Parish in Alexandra Hills, and the QLD Department of Communities, to provide supported accommodation for young people living with disabilities, who have ageing parents. Kawana Waters Rendu House, at Kawana Waters, provides accommodation for single residents in 17 units. The residents are fully supported by a housing officer, and members of the Society and local community.
Life on the edge 2009 15
Case study Beth* came to one of our housing programs, recovering from a nervous breakdown. She was quite young, and spent twelve months receiving specialist medical help for her condition. Over a period of two years, she was able to find part-time work, and move to fulltime. Through a combination of good, wrap-around support from Vincentians, excellent property tenancy management from Society staff, and her willingness to grasp hold of her illness and make a positive change in her life, Beth was able to ‘graduate’ from our supported housing program to the private rental market, and truly get her life back on track. *name has been changed
Top: State Member for Capalaba Michael Choi, Patricia, Stephen and Colin Rooney, President of the St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland John Campbell, Qld Minister for Disability Services and Multicultural Affairs Annastacia Palasczuk, and St Anthony’s Parish Priest Father Peter McCarthy. Right: At the opening of the Kawana Waters Facility – acting Northern Central Council President Annette Baker and Qld Minister for Community Services and Housing and Minister for Women Karen Struthers.
16 Life on the edge 2009
W e s e e , w e h e ar , w e h e lp
Our new ‘tag line’ for our good works in Tasmania is We see, We hear, We Help. Our Special Works range from accommodation for the sick, the elderly and those with disabilities, plus supported employment and vocational training facilities for adults with disabilities. Many people who use our services come from loving and supportive homes; we see ourselves as continuing that relationship outside the home environment. Some of the ways that we do this are in three separate, but closely related, works in our capital city, Hobart. Bethlehem House is the most visible of these. An imposing building situated just outside the CBD, this is the only service that provides crisis accommodation for homeless men in the city. Many of our guests are ‘living on the edge’ and feel rejected by the rest of society. Through its support services, Bethlehem House offers men a better quality of life by providing opportunities for training, recreation and learning life skills. The post-release options project (PROP) helps prisoners exiting gaol and aims to reduce the rate of reoffending in the community. The manager of Bethlehem House, Gary Bennett, says the profile of men coming to Bethlehem House has also changed in the past two years. “We are seeing a lessening of older men presenting for emergency accommodation and an increase in younger to middle-age men either selfpresenting or being referred to us,” he says. “The majority of men we are now assisting have complex issues including mental health, substance abuse and gambling and relationship breakdowns.” This provides a real challenge for Gary and his staff; however, it is a social service without which these men, and Hobart’s community, would be worse off.
For example, John, who is deaf and who has mental health issues, arrived at the House after being evicted from his Housing Department unit. John cannot live without his dog, Tom, who is ‘his ears’. Our staff were able to accommodate John at a guest house and, because of his special circumstances, also Tom. Through its outreach program, Bethlehem House continues to care for John. Across town, the Loui’s Van volunteers are preparing meals for those Christ’s poor who are living on the streets. Loui’s Van is a constant reminder to the wider community of the dignity and worth of people in need. Spending a night with the Loui’s volunteers has been a ‘rite of passage’ for many of us. I well recall the elderly homeless man approaching my young mentor for blankets. When gently chided for coming up two weeks Right: Dining with friends. Bottom: Bethlehem House.
running, he responded, “Oh, not for me, but for the young man over there.” On investigating, we found a 30-yearold shivering under a bush in the car park – had it not been for his new friend from the streets, he may well have frozen in the winter night. From this valuable service came Dining with Friends where, with the help of Brighton Council and their facilities, a dinner is put on for local residents. This is a wonderful social occasion and is eagerly awaited by not only residents but also some of the Loui’s Van people. The last word belongs to coordinator Janelle Kava: “I walk away each month, with admiration and amazement at what can be achieved in a community that, yes, is at the lower end of the socio-economic scale and yes, has had its fair share of bad publicity. Dining with Friends shows that providing a simple program with simple meals can bring forth a huge community spirit.”
Life on the edge 2009 17
fr e d ’ s v an
Fred’s Van provides a unique service to the Adelaide community serving 600 meals from six locations each week by more than 350 volunteers, no matter the weather or season. The history of Fred’s Van dates back to the late 1980s, when Vinnies Youth volunteers, coordinated by Catherine O’Connell and Peter Barry, saw a need to help the hungry and homeless people in the City of Adelaide. Food was distributed at various squats around the city and through the parklands. As the need grew and more people heard about the good work, food was distributed from an old station wagon stocked with food. One night, the station wagon broke down in King William Street and had to be pushed off the road. A group of people from Lions International who were visiting Adelaide witnessed this and crossed the road to see why a group of people were clustered around the old vehicle. They were so impressed with the work that they decided to support the funding of the van. Fred’s Van, with permission from the Adelaide City Council, then began operating out of an old shed in Symonds Place, using a portable barbecue in a laneway to serve our street friends. Fred’s Van continued to expand and led to the funding, by Lions International, of a kitchen/hall/garage complex at the St Vincent de Paul Family Centre in Hawthorn. From this humble beginning, Fred’s Van has expanded and now operates a service on one or more nights of the week in Christies Beach, Salisbury, Gawler, Elizabeth, the city and Semaphore. In June a new location in Ferryden Park was set to open as a collaborative project linking neighbouring conferences, the local Lutheran community and the Adelaide Magis group. The project, called Meet&Veg, aspires to involve local community through volunteering, recruiting from disadvantaged and stigmatised groups.
John Lamprell, Fred’s Van 1 President.
Volunteers Fred’s Van volunteers are a ‘community of purpose’, comprising very engaged and humble individuals. Many volunteers are also extremely involved as managers, fundraisers, co-ordinators of shopping, and organisers. John Lamprell holds the ‘full-time’ volunteer position as the president of Fred’s Van One, operating from the city. “To me Fred’s Van is a positive way of giving back something, be it a mug of soup, a barbecue sausage in bread, coffee, tea and chocolate drinks, a blanket and particularly a willing ear to listen to our ‘street friends’ who although not necessarily living on the street, are certainly worse off than me,” Mr Lamprell said. “Although the constraints on my time are at times heavy, I can always make some time for Fred’s Van.” His sentiment is echoed by more than 300 volunteers who work on Fred’s Van.
Another volunteer, Greg Osborne, wrote that it is important that volunteers have a genuine heart to “assist hungry people in a way that doesn’t patronise them or their situation”. Maryann Badenoch, the treasurer of Fred’s Van Two, said that, “volunteers are giving hope to those who may feel hopeless, making their lives a little easier. It’s a way of building relationships and trust, helping to break down the barriers.” Fred’s Van serves as an important safe space for people in need of simple, nonjudgmental services. It is also an important part of social justice in action for different groups including mini Vinnies, corporate volunteers and many donors. Pope John Paul II said that, “...it is the innate movement of the heart that inspires every human being to help his fellow man. It is a law of existence. A volunteer experiences a joy that goes far beyond what he has done when he succeeds in giving himself freely to others.” Fred’s Van volunteers certainly succeed.
18 Life on the edge 2009
A ft e r t h e F ir e s
For those affected by Victoria’s Black Saturday fires, time has passed slowly. As people come to terms with the devastating effects of a day like no other, St Vincent de Paul Society members quietly and efficiently have gone about providing practical support and friendship to thousands of people in fire-affected communities.
Nearly a year on, survivors are trying to get some normality back into their lives. Some are rebuilding, some are focused on helping others, some have stepped up to become community leaders, while others have decided that they will never return.
Around 530 properties were destroyed and 34 people lost their lives in Marysville. There is little left that is recognisable in this once-thriving tourist town, nestled at the base of the ranges.
A tour of some of the worst-hit areas of Marysville, Kinglake and parts of Gippsland reveals the overwhelming devastation and havoc wreaked in a matter of hours. Blistering temperatures, gale-force winds, and tinder-dry conditions on that February day were a recipe for disaster, on a scale never seen before in this land of ‘drought and flooding rains’. Travelling with Society members who have been hard at work since day one reveals an interesting insight into the core work of the Society – offering a ‘hand-up‘ to people in need. Here are just some of the stories that reflect the vast array of work that has been done in fire-affected communities throughout Victoria.
Alan Somers, a member of the St Mary’s, Mt Evelyn conference, coordinates the team of volunteers who have been on the ground helping fire survivors in Marysville since March, after the town was declared safe and no longer a crime scene.
“We have about 30 members in the team who travel from the Yarra Valley and Ringwood regions to man the community hubs,” Alan explains. “We are seeing about 50 to 60 cases a week and we have had to have a radically different approach to how we normally provide assistance. “The people we are seeing are not our normal clientele – in many cases the whole idea of asking for help is foreign to them, so we have had to have a different approach to how we help. Even now, we are seeing people come in for a bit of help for the first time – nine months after the fires. One of those seeking help for the first time is a man in his seventies. Under the shade of a tree in the Buxton Reserve, he tells the harrowing story of his miraculous escape from the flames. “I was standing at the back of my house and the fire was about 200 metres from the back fence,” he says. “As I watched the fire approach, my garden combusted and I had to crawl on my hands and knees to my car.” He and his wife were lucky to survive, but they lost everything. Today is his first visit to Vinnie’s. The couple has moved from Marysville, buying a home in a neighbouring community. “Our hearts are still in Marysville, but we are too old to rebuild, he says. He leaves
with some vouchers and a kind word about the help he has received today from Alan and his team. Alan says one of the keys factors to successfully helping the community is the use of local businesses. “This has meant that many small businesses severely affected by the fires have been able to keep going and keep their staff employed because we give the locals vouchers to shop locally.” Many of the volunteers working in the Marysville area travel 200 km round trips each day to man the hubs. Co-located with the DHS and Centrelink, the St Vincent de Paul Society is one of the few remaining agencies providing ongoing support to this community. Kinglake John Hayes, a member of the Diamond Creek conference, has been on the ground since day one. He has worked tirelessly with his team of 40 volunteers to cover the areas of Diamond Creek, Kinglake, Arthurs Creek, Strathewen, Hurstbridge and St Andrews. Again, the provision of vouchers to local businesses has been welcomed. John has seen the need change from emergency supplies of water and food, blankets, clothing and toiletries, to tools for clearing blocks, and now to whitegoods and furniture, as people start to rebuild and move back into their homes and out of temporary accommodation. Many are living in sheds or caravans, some provided by the Society, until building is completed. The aid provided in this region has been driven by individual and community need – conference members have responded and adapted to the changing requirements. “We have also funded youth programs, school camps, and sports uniforms. We have been able to respond to whatever the need has been at any given time,” John says. continued on page 20...
Lifeon onthe theedge edge2009 2009 19 Life
Against all hope he believed in hope. Romans 4:18
Clockwise from left: Regrowth in Marysville; John and Judy in Callignee; Bev Harris in Labertouche; Community Hub in Narbethong.
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Sitting over a cuppa in the half-built shed, they both remember thinking when they left that they would be back the next day. It seems incredible to them even now that this fire took a life-time of memories. They are resilient though, and determined to rebuild on the land they bought 30 years ago.
Right: Harry at the Buxton Hub. Bottom: Sandra Walker and Judy.
Society member Bev Harris, on the other hand, has been visiting people from the beginning. “We were waiting for people to come to us, but after a week we knew that they weren’t going to, so we had to go to them.” Bev has become a community leader in Labertouche and has worked out of the community-operated hub and volunteer centre from the start. She now visits people in their homes and works tirelessly at the hub to gather donations and material aid. “I don’t say no to anything that people want to donate – there is always someone who can do with it,” she laughs. Gippsland When St Vincent de Paul Society members Sandra Walker and Bev Harris visit families in Callignee and Labertouche, they are warmly embraced by the people they are helping. It is obvious that these women are welcome friends. Sandra and Bev have each been working up to seven days a week since the fires. Sandra recalls they initially provided assistance from relief centres and community hubs, and then started home visits, as people moved back onto their properties. She does around six visits per day – and has travelled thousands of kilometres on roads that would test a rally driver’s skills. Yet she remains undaunted by the task.
We visit John and Judy, who are in the process of rebuilding and are fitting out a shed in which to live while their new home is built. Looking over the remains of their home that was completely destroyed by the fire, John recalls the events of Black Saturday. “We stayed to defend but when the wind changed and turned the fire in our direction, I knew it was time to go. I knew we would lose power, and once that was gone, so was my ability to defend the property.” When John left his house at 6.30 pm, he needed a torch to get from the house to the car – the plumes of smoke surrounding him had turned day into night – it was pitch black.
Her infectious humour and boundless energy mean that this is a well-run operation and Bev says that it is the most rewarding thing she has ever done. Over the past three months, Bev has recorded an astonishing 729 visits. As people get back on their feet, the visits will wind back. By January 2010, she anticipates that the workload will have eased, allowing her time to read the daily diary that she has kept since February 7 of her own experiences and those of others. “Everywhere we went, people wanted to tell us their stories. It was sometimes hard to listen to the stories but we knew it was helping them,” she says. The support and friendship offered by the volunteers of St Vincent de Paul at this time is obviously an important part of the role we play during disaster recovery. From the outset, Vinnie’s said it would be in it for the long haul – that declaration has certainly rung true.
Life on the edge 2009 21
F amil y F ri e n d s P ro g ram – Gi v in g sin g l e par e nts a r e ason to smil e A new program to support single-parent families through disadvantage has recently been endorsed by the St Vincent de Paul Society in Western Australia. This first-of-its-kind program, Family Friends, came about after the state’s Social Justice Committee recognised the alarmingly high number of families requesting emergency welfare assistance who were also receiving the Sole Parent Allowance.
support. They can now look forward to regular phone calls and visits, presents on children’s birthdays, their ‘family friend’s’ home phone number (with an invitation to call directly), advocacy on their behalf, and at all times, a supportive, caring and compassionate person to talk to in times of need. Twelve families are currently members of the Family Friends Program run within the Whitfords area. These
families (who have 41 children between them) are benefiting from the generosity and dedication of volunteers and members who give their time to ensure that their outlook in life is as positive as possible. A study from the Australian Family Association (The Case for the TwoParent Family, updated March 2001, Bill Muehlenberg, National Secretary, The Australian Family Association)
Approximately 36 per cent of emergency welfare requests to the Society in Western Australia are from people who receive the Sole Parent Allowance, and 95 per cent are single mothers. The Society is committed to enriching the lives of those experiencing hardship and advocates for a fair, equal and compassionate community. So, through the help of a local parish, a Society conference, and other community members and organisations, the Family Friends Program began trialling in a Perth northern suburb. The Whitfords area, with a high rate of single-parent families, and the added benefit of a great deal of support from their local parish and community groups, volunteered to establish the program. Within their parish they formed a sub-committee of the Society titled ‘Social Justice with Love’ and, with parish priest Father Joseph Tran as patron, began the program with a great deal of commitment and support from their peers and parishioners. The families who are chosen for the program are those who have received assistance from the Society in the past and who have been identified as requiring extra support to make it through their disadvantage. Once a family has accepted a personal invitation to become a member of the program, the family will meet their new ‘family friends’, with the full intention of receiving lifelong friendship and
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indicates that children from singleparent families are vulnerable to socio/ economic deprivation, poor educational performance, criminal involvement, involvement with drugs, mental and emotional issues, poor physical health and mortality, suicide, teenage pregnancy and child abuse. The Family Friends Program aims to give children positive role models and help parents provide them with every possibility in life by creating a more stable family structure, making them less vulnerable. Delwyn’s story is one that could have been a whole lot different had it not been for the help she received from the St Vincent de Paul Society. Hers is one of inspiration and strength; however it is also one of immense sadness and grief. The Whitfords conference came to know Delwyn and her family five years ago, when we provided her with emergency assistance of clothing and food. Upon visiting Delwyn, the conference members soon realised that her needs went far beyond material goods and she was, in fact, dealing with a much more serious issue in her life. At the age of 39, Delwyn was struggling to care for her children after the tragic murder of her eldest son at the hands of her own son’s father. Upon learning that her eldest and dear son had been brutally killed, Delwyn spiralled into a depressive state and found it impossible to function normally and care for her family. It was then, in 2004, that Delwyn was asked by a Society member if she would like to become part of the Family Friends Program, to which she happily agreed. Delwyn says the Society’s volunteers gave her a great deal of support in her tough times; just having someone to talk to and listen was very important in her recovery. She says they were never judgmental and were there for her when she desperately needed help. After a troubled past that included times when she and her family were
homeless, moving from the country and trying to settle in Perth, and dealing with the immense grief of losing a son and brother, Delwyn now had a friend to confide in, someone she could talk to when she needed a friendly ear, someone she could go to if times were tough and, more importantly, the sense that she had developed a good foundation to rely on for when she needed assistance. This sort of support is something that many single-parent families without a network of family or friends often lack. As part of her recovery, Delwyn organised a children’s fashion parade to herald the beginning of NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week, which paraded to a large and appreciative audience after one Sunday Mass. Delwyn, herself a former model at the tender age of 14, remembers how it had helped her confidence and self respect as a young teenager. She was now determined to give other young Aboriginal girls the same life-affirming experience and successfully coordinated 12 beautiful and extremely energetic children to deliver the parade! Delwyn’s son is now also part of the Family Friends Program as a single parent; he is caring for not only his four children but his father’s four children while he is in jail and has found it a difficult journey to go on alone. As for Delwyn, the future is looking promising and she is now a very proactive member of the parish committee and aids in the rehabilitation of other single mothers in devastating circumstances by sharing her own story and giving them hope for a brighter future. Catherine is another single mother of three children aged seven, six and three who found herself in a very difficult situation. Catherine had been happily married for seven years when her husband suddenly broke the news to her that he wanted to leave the marriage.
At the time, her youngest child was only three months old. Catherine’s husband packed up his belongings and left the same day, leaving her with feelings of depression and anxiety. What followed were six weeks of hospitalised care and many more months of alcohol abuse and anxiety. It was after the marriage broke down and Catherine discovered her partner had been unfaithful that she came into contact with the St Vincent de Paul Society, as she was struggling to take care of her children and pay the bills. Her home is owned by herself and her husband but, as a New Zealand citizen, she does not qualify for parent allowance or any sort of government assistance. She relies on her husband to pay half of the mortgage and gets by with casual work. “Everything was ok until the car broke down and needed $450 worth of repairs, followed by another $200 after a further break down,” Catherine says. “On top of that I had a $450 water bill, $750 in house insurance, $350 for school uniforms and the rates had just come in for a further $1200. I was sitting there wondering how I was going to afford all of this.” It was then that Catherine met a Society volunteer who assisted her with food and help with the bills. The volunteer also provided clothing for the children and, most of all, gave Catherine someone to talk to – something she needed more than anything. Catherine became a part of the Family Friends Program and volunteers were there for the young family when they needed help. They cut the lawn and got the gardening done and her ‘family friends’ also gave gifts to the children on their birthdays and special occasions. Just last Christmas, a conference member helped set up a trampoline Catherine had bought for her children – without this assistance; she would have had no-one else to call, being a single mother with no family around her.
Life on the edge 2009 23
Catherine says the Family Friends Program has helped her in her times of need, “I would never be in this position and have such a positive outlook if it weren’t for the help of Vinnies. When I am in a stressful situation and I need some extra help, I have someone to turn to, and the best part is that they are never judgmental.”
NAIDOC Week Children’s Fashion Parade
Catherine has recently decided to move to Sydney to be closer to her family in New Zealand and says the Society volunteers have been “absolutely fantastic” in helping to get her home ready for sale. She says they helped with handles on the kitchen cupboards, hinges, lighting, and silicone for the kitchen, as she never would have been able to afford a handy man. The Family Friends Program is currently operating in three other areas of WA, in Ocean Reef, Greenwood and Wanneroo, and is flexible to the area’s individual needs based on the client base of the area. The Society’s State Council is in full support of the program, and is presenting it for consideration by other conferences across Australia. Through its Social Justice Committee, the Society continues to proactively address the issues currently affecting Western Australia. The state has experienced the highs and lows of the boom and the damaging effects of the global financial crisis, and is now faced with issues of high unemployment, increasing interest rates and rises in the cost of essential services. The committee continues to lobby the state government for better and more innovative ways to help those in need. A staggering 70,500 West Australians are now unemployed and more than 13,000 individuals are homeless, including 4,500 who are under the age of 18. The St Vincent de Paul Society in WA continues to advocate for a just and compassionate community.
24 Life on the edge 2009
Housin g s h orta g e h its C anb e rra
When Canberra comes to mind, people often think politicians, parliament and power. What does not come to mind is homelessness, housing shortages and poverty. Canberra has the most expensive housing rental market in Australia and the lowest rental vacancy rate. Low-cost accommodation is in extremely short supply with rents for a two-bedroom unit or townhouse starting from over $300 per week. A recent vacancy at the lower end of the market attracted more than 50 written applications. The 30 per cent growth in applications for public housing during the past financial year has been attributed to the global financial crisis. Recent estimates indicate that the homeless population in the ACT grew by 11 per cent between 2001 and 2006, whereas in other states, such as NSW and Victoria, rates of homelessness fell. Many of the families who are homeless are affected by poverty that comes from fleeing domestic violence, being a single parent or a refugee, having a disability or chronic health problems. St Vincent de Paul Family Services is one service that is addressing the needs of homeless families in the ACT. Formed in late 2006 through the amalgamation of three Special Works of the Society in the Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese, the service has provided accommodation to more than 110 homeless families. The length of stay depends on how long it takes for the family to secure longterm housing, either in the public or private rental market. The housing stock of 14 three-bedroom houses and two larger properties (used for shared accommodation) is leased to the service by Housing ACT.
While families are in the service, a key family support worker visits the family regularly. A children’s support worker is also allocated where two or more children are of school age. Through a process of reflection, the family is helped to look at issues that have been making it difficult to maintain their housing. These can range from budgeting, health, drug and alcohol use, relationships and parenting. Rents charged to the family are based on what they would pay in public housing. This rent usually is much more affordable than what they have experienced previously, and allows families to address debts that have often accumulated during their struggle to keep their housing. How the service helps homeless families can be shown by one family’s experience (names have been changed). Dee is a mother of two children. She Right: The young parents’ shared accommodation house. Bottom: Having fun in the river at a Family Services holiday activity.
had been renting the family home from her parents for nine years. Dee was given two weeks’ notice to vacate by her parents who wished to renovate and then sell the house. Dee was devastated by the short notice given to her and her parents’ indifference to her situation. Dee had been a single mother with young children for all of this time and also had health issues that prevented her from seeking full-time employment. She was struggling financially and had run up debts with utilities and on credit cards. After unsuccessfully seeking a private rental property, she put her name down for public housing and sought help from emergency housing providers. St Vincent de Paul Family Services helped her to look for crisis housing and after a few weeks was able to offer her a room in shared accommodation.
Life Lifeon onthe theedge edge2009 2009 25
While in this accommodation, Dee was able to address her debts, apply for priority with Housing ACT, receive counselling for herself and her children, and attend a parenting course. Dee gave a lot of time to building a vegetable patch and was also a great support to other families who shared the crisis accommodation with her. Her children were also helped financially to take swimming lessons, which provided them with some recreational diversion. After a stay of six months, Dee was offered priority housing with Housing ACT. The service continued to provide Dee with support during her move and transition to long-term housing. While the service provides crisis and transitional accommodation to around 20 families at any one time, many more families are unable to find crisis accommodation. The service responds to these families by providing outreach support, where possible. Since its foundation, more than 300 families have been helped by St Vincent de Paul Family Services in this way. On a day-to-day basis, the agency provides outreach support to about 40 families at any one time. They receive case management from a key family support worker who helps them look at alternatives, and makes referrals and advocates on their behalf for vacancies within other crisis-accommodation providers. A daily update of vacancies among these services allows each to refer suitable families when vacancies occur. St Vincent de Paul Family Services also advocates on their behalf for priority with ACT Housing. The service’s outreach support to homeless families can be illustrated further with a case study. Belinda and her 15-year-old son, Jack, were referred by the ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service. Belinda had suffered domestic violence from her partner over several years and had already had one period of accommodation in a women’s refuge before returning to her partner.
When St Vincent de Paul Family Services first became involved, Belinda had been assaulted again by her partner. Police attended and an apprehended violence order (AVO) was issued to the partner. Belinda was supported by the service as she tried to find alternative accommodation. Counselling for both herself and her son was arranged. While searching for accommodation, she was given emotional support and encouragement to deal with the stress and anxiety caused by pressure from her partner to drop the AVO while they continued to live in the same house. This support was provided through weekly meetings that were increased to twice weekly when needed. She was also supported through the court and mediation processes regarding the assault and domestic violence order. Referral and advocacy from the family support worker to a transitional women’s accommodation service resulted in her securing accommodation for herself and her son after 3 ½ months with our service. Emotional support continued to be provided to Belinda for several weeks after she began her tenancy with this other supported housing service. St Vincent de Paul Family Services is one of 10 Special Works of the Society in the Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese, illustrating the solid and practical ways in which the Society responds to the different experiences of poverty in the region. Other Special Works in the Archdiocese provide accommodation and support to single people who are experiencing homelessness, while others provide support to refugees, disadvantaged youth, and people experiencing mental health issues.
The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in the wardrobe is the garment of the one who is naked; the shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit. Basil the Great
26 Life on the edge 2009
Serving our neighbouring countries With education now widely acknowledged as a way out of poverty, Assist a Student continues to be one of the most sought-after programs by Society members in our twinned countries. Many thousands of families throughout the Asia Pacific region are unable to afford a basic education for their children. This year, more than 5500 students were assisted by the program, but demand for the scholarships far exceeds our capacity to supply them. The Assist a Student program benefits children by: • Providing a basic education that may otherwise be denied • Widening career options for the student
Vanuatu joins the program This year saw Vanuatu added to the list of countries where the Assist a Student program is active and making progress. Four schools joined the program: Saint Martin de Poresse Kindergarten, Saint Michel Kindergarten in Laringmat Village, Saint Rosaire Kindergarten on Vao Malekula and Saint Vincent de Paul Kindergarten on Malekula Island. The National Council of Australia was excited to get involved in the Assist a Student program by sponsoring 12 students from Saint Vincent de Paul Kindy on Malekula Island. Children include Coraly and Joseph Betsesai, Carina Melterovo and Johnny Barang with their teacher, Ms Marieguetie Rory.
• Assisting in attaining self-sufficiency in families and the community. Students in overseas countries are nominated by their local conference, and their names are then submitted through their National Council to the National Council of Australia. In each Australian state, an annual appeal is promoted through both the Society and parish communities. St Vincent de Paul conference members, councils, staff and volunteers all participate as donors in this National Education project, along with schools, the Catholic community and general public. The cost is $70AUD per student for twelve months, with all donations acknowledged and receipted. Australian donors receive a certificate with student names (per $70AUD donation). Currently, the program includes children in countries including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, Myanmar, PNG, Kiribati and the Philippines.
Right: Students of St Michel Conference, Laringmat Village, East of Pentecost Island. Bottom: Students of Saint Rosaire Kindy, Vao Malekula with teacher, Ms Francoise Maltaus.
Upon receiving the first Assist a Student remittance to Vanuatu, Eric Molabeh, a representative of the National Council of Vanuatu, had this to say: “I announced the news of your support officially last night after our prayer and the people attending the prayer were very happy and applauded very loudly. On behalf of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Vanuatu I would like to thank you and the Society in Australia and those who helped donating this money. That money will certainly help the students whose names appear on the list that I sent you.” The Assist a Student program reflects the Mission Statement of the St Vincent de Paul Society: to serve the poor with love, respect, justice, hope and joy. We do this by sharing some of ourselves – what we have – with those in need in our neighbouring countries.
Life on the edge 2009 27
Research Our founder, Blessed Fredric Ozanam, said, “You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis: you must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of a long-term improvement.” The Society of St Vincent de Paul in Australia upholds this tradition with a growing research program that is based on advocacy, to bring about long-term improvement to the condition of the poor, rather than simply aiming to improve services. Our research is always strategic, fitting into determined advocacy goals. Where possible, the research must empower the people it seeks to assist. Studying the structural causes of poverty involves seeking answers from those who are pushed out, not placing our answers upon them. The Society conducts research in a number of ways. One of the most sophisticated is the partially funded linkage projects of the statutory authority, the Australian Research Council, with leading universities. Presently the Society is one year into a three-year project with Australian Catholic University, Curtain University, Murdoch University, Edith Cowan University and Mission Australia to examine social inclusion through community-embedded, socially supported university education. This project looks at the community benefits of the Clemente program (which seeks to provide education for poor or disadvantaged people) that is operated across Australia by the Society and other organisations.
The Society, with the University of Western Sydney, Flinders University, Loyola University Chicago and the Tenants Union of NSW, has also applied for a further ARC grant. If successful, the group intends to look at ways for people on the margins to be able to speak for themselves about the conditions in which they live. We are also involved with the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW in an ARC project to measure social exclusion in a way that relates to the day-to-day lives of the people we assist. The Society also conducts independent research. Our National Research Officer, Jonathan Campton, oversees both the independent research and the development and maintenance of research partnerships with academic institutions. We welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with other nongovernment organisations that share our passion for social justice. In the past year, the national office, with the great assistance of our Victorian office, received funds to conduct research on ‘customer protections’ and ‘smart meters’. This research covered Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria and was carried out by our Manager of Policy and Research in Victoria, Gavin Dufty, and an independent researcher, May Mauseth Johnston.
The Society also continues to prepare submissions to various inquiries. In the past year, we have prepared submissions to the Productivity Commission, the National Human Rights Consultation, the inquiries into homelessness legislation and into social security (Pension reform post budget 2009) and the Federal Opposition policy review. The outcomes of the research include invitations to committee hearings, seats on advisory committees, references in reports, references in policy and, in some cases, changed structures. Other areas of interest for the Society include researching tertiary homelessness and children, energy pricing (global warming) and social security reform. We expect future areas of research will include the present rightsbased approach to social policy. It is important to recognise that Blessed Fredric Ozanam often spoke of rights, saying, “The poor person is a unique person of God’s fashioning with an inalienable right to respect.” Through our research agenda the Society continues to learn about the conditions and causes of marginalisation and inequality, enabling us to effectively advocate for the rights of the people with whom we stand in solidarity.
Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the other epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down. Archbishop Oscar Romero
28 Life on the edge 2009
The Global Community The term ‘twinning’, as used by the St Vincent de Paul Society, means the pairing of a Conference in one country with a particular Conference in another country. It is the way the St Vincent de Paul Society addresses the greater needs of Conferences in developing countries by providing them with a ‘twin’ Conference in a developed country. Through twinning, members support one another spiritually, financially, and through mutual encouragement. Conferences in Australia are twinned with a Conference in a developing country in a spiritual partnership in which the two Conferences agree to:
• Pray for the members of their twinned Conference and its work
and the global solidarity rather than globalised greed.
• Keep in contact through correspondence • Share some small material support if it is required.
Poverty is a vicious cycle. In many Asia Pacific countries, poverty means talented individuals lack opportunities. The education of a person develops self-esteem and skills and in turn has a positive effect on the whole community. Education is a key to enabling an individual to support themselves, their families and their communities independently in the future.
Conferences appoint a twinning officer who is responsible for ensuring that their twinning relationship is maintained in accordance with the International Twinning Manual. Twinning is our small contribution to world peace and understanding through cultural exchange among peoples. The twinning approach is all about partnership in development
AUSTRALIAN TWINS BY COUNTRY Bangladesh 27 Cambodia 16 Caroline Islands 1 East Timor 1 Fiji 24 India 1409 Indonesia 286 Kiribati 1 Myanmar 51 Pakistan 164 Papua New Guinea 9 Philippines 240 Thailand 113 Vanuatu 9 Total Twinning Partnerships: 2351 Twinning Grants: A$752,320.00 A$80 each quarter Total Grants: Easter/Christmas Grants
PROJECTS Country Cambodia India Indonesia Pakistan Papua New Guinea Philippines Thailand Total:
Amount Given A$200.00 A$99,123.90 A$959.00 A$9471.30 A$37,220.00 A$13,089.15 A$8,605.00 A$168,668.35
DISASTER RELIEF Country Bangladesh Fiji Indonesia Phillipines Total:
ASSIST A STUDENT Country India Kiribati Myanmar Pakistan Philippines Thailand Vanuatu Total:
The Assist a Student program provides the funding for an education scholarship to train and educate a student for one year.
Amount Given A$4160.00 A$23,341.54 A$3450.00 A$24,675.73 A$55,627.27
Students Sponsored 1664 200 1278 500 905 900 74 5521
Life Lifeon onthe theedge edge2009 2009 29
Mystery is not what can be hidden deliberately, but ratherâ€Ś the fact that the gamut of the possible can always surprise us. John Berger
30 Life on the edge 2009
Society financial & property resources at work for the people living on the edge People in Need Services Provision by Conference members on a one-to-one basis of... • food, clothing, household goods, furniture • accommodation and rental assistance • assistance with utilities and transport expenses • medical, dental and allied needs • school clothing, school fees • legal and related assistance, • representations to Centrelink and other State entities • companionship and friendly assistance on personal and family matters
Mental Health Services Assistance to people living with mental health problems to obtain... • professional services • volunteer friendships for social activities • training and productive work in supported employment facilities’
Centres of Charity ‘Vinnies’ properties owned by Society... • for people in need of help to make contact with the Society • providing people-in-need services. • receiving and processing donated goods • sale of donated goods surplus to the provision of people-in-need services • funds raised by the sale of goods are applied by Conferences and Councils to the delivery of services for the poor and disadvantaged
Aged Care • Accommodation and services for aged people in need of low to high care in Society owned and leased premises... • Independent Living Units with access to care services • Home care services
Homeless Services Facilities owned and leased by the Society providing for homeless women, men and families... • accommodation, meals, clothing • medical and dental services • legal assistance for victims of domestic violence, • services for people with alcohol and drug addiction problems • training and learning services to encourage and assist homeless people to return to independent living with security and dignity • funds raised through these facilities are applied to delivery of the services
Reserve State Offices
Audited Financial Statements Each of the St Vincent de Paul Society eight State and Territory legal entities incorporated under their relevant Associations Act produce audited annual accounts in accordance with
the statutory requirements of their State/Territory. The following page presents key aspects of their aggregated accounts.
Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamentalright to dignity and a decent life. Nelson Mandela
Life on the edge 2009 31
A pplication of C urr e nt P rop e rt y , P lant an d E q uipm e nt A ss e ts $372,466,600
11% People in Need Services
Centres of Charity
Mental Health Services
F un d s committ e d for C urr e nt P roj e cts an d N e w P roj e cts o v e r n e x t 3 y e ars $105,005,800
Income • 2008–2009 $256,275,500
6% Centres of Charity
Expenditure • 2008–2009 $253,284,900
3% 3% People in Need Services
10% Homeless Services
Aged Care Services
Centres of Charity
We will win. Although you donâ€™t believe it,we will win.
National Council of Australia, PO Box 243, Deakin West, ACT 2600. www.vinnies.org.au